Buchholz: Gusthof Britz, Refined Simple Food, Neukölln

UPDATE (OCT 10, 2011) I went back to Buchholz this weekend and found a few changes I wanted to share with you. The Bratwurst plate had changed from 1 large sausage to 2 small ones, that could have just been a supplier issue. More irksome was that the pear and chocolate dessert I had lauded so vehemently in my last post had been struck off, replaced instead by a very ordinary (in comparison to the pear dessert you understand) plum compote, topped with cream and crumble, in a glass. *yawn*

Mysterious things continued to happen when I went upstairs to visit the loo and found a door ajar, leading to a beautiful dining room with some beautiful books by Oscar Marti in the bookshelves and an entirely different menu from downstairs.  I scratched my head, returned to our downstairs table and instructed my husband to quiz the waiter.

“Where had the wonderful dessert gone?”
“It’s been taken off.”
“What’s upstairs?”
“A restaurant.”
“Is it a different menu from this one?”
“Yes.” (also about 30% to 40% more expensive upstairs)
“When is it open?”
“Thursday through Saturday.”

The conversation didn’t exactly flow. But what I surmise from that is that there are two distinct restaurants: a more upscale and pricey one on the first floor and a simple, rustic, cheaper one on the ground floor. You may find some gems in the rustic ones or you might not. It’s slightly frustrating, especially that I was so enthusiastic about my first experience there and am feeling considerably subdued after my second visit.

I feel the two places need to be more clearly delineated, nothing worse than a confused brand. Maybe they aren’t clear themselves what they are going for. I still like it enough to keep an eye on it.
So will go ahead and report any further changes back here.
After just one visit, Buchholz’s Gusthof Britz hurtles to a prominent position on my ‘Berlin: Favourites’ page.Mainly because it’s the closest approximation to the British gastropub I’ve found here (albeit the German version of one). Unexpected, because it seems to me, most chefs cooking at this level are chasing the golden ladle at the end of the rainbow, they want the big dining room and the blockbuster menus. (I think two notable exceptions to this are restaurant ETA Hoffmann and Renger Patzsch.)

In an admirable act of restraint, the menu lists only 9 dishes, 3 each of starters, main courses and desserts (I read online somewhere that the menus will change often). I sidestepped the starters because I was going to a special El Celler de Can Roca evening at Aqua; I didn’t want to run up the bill; but also because, in this city, starters can often resemble main courses, I imagined the celeriac soup would be served in a bucket, that the veal roll would be the size of Layla’s thighs. Undeterred by portion sizes and un-hampered by future dinner reservations, my husband ordered the veal (€14) and it turned out to be a perfectly manageable 6 slices, with firm lentils - delicious.

We were lucky with the weather and were able to eat in the gorgeous courtyard, with gravel scrunching under foot and a pert box hedge dividing the space into 4 rectangles, the chairs set on red herringbone flagstones. The tables were set simply with green disposable table mats, potted flowers in the middle and a handful of chestnuts scattered on each table: which I found to be a pretty, almost feminine approach, something I would expect to find if I went round to a friend’s house for lunch. I ordered the bratwurst with potato puree and sauerkraut (€7.50) it came with a side dish of pungent mustard. Hrabi had the talioligni with rocket pesto, I appreciated the inclusion of oven dried tomato and the bright runny pesto but that pasta shape is not a favourite, there are often pockets of raw dough at the twists and simultaneously overcooked extremities. (I should mention that a friend went the next day and had the crispy pork with potato cucumber salad and found it to be on the dry side).

I am not knocking it down, just trying to give you and indication of where to set your expectations so you can love it as much as I did. I’m planning to go back every weekend that the weather allows us to sit outside (I’m hoping there will be heat lamps in the subsequent cooler autumn months?).

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Lavanderia Vecchia, Italian, Neukölln

Everyone seems to be talking about this restaurant (it’s on the cover of Zitty’s Essen + Trinken and listed as No. 1 Italian restaurant in Prinz). Some are even being very London about it all and saying it was all the rage when it first opened but not so much now. All I know is: it’s bloody difficult to get a table.  So I did something I often used to do in London, I called 3 weeks before, booked a table for four and then found some friends to go with me. 

It’s rather far away, I drove past the grand old Tempelhof airport and the large green expanses of Volkspark, marvelling at how every time I think I’ve got Berlin figured, it shows me yet another of her faces.

From light and airy, to congested and dingy, Flughafenstrasse is a smutty narrow two lane street.  When you look for the restaurant, it’s best just to look for the number, 46, rather than any obvious sign.  The 3 hanging towels and flourescent tube lighting give a taste of what’s to come.  The most theatrical set up I’ve seen since Pret a Diner: exposed brick walls painted white, flourescent tube lighting everywhere - even, under the table to light up our feet, domestic scenes set up behind glass and lit by yet more flourescent light.  The theater continues when our waitress turns out to be an older woman, in a black house dress with small white polka dots, worn black loafers and silver hair.  It’s wonderful, although entirely unusual to be served by a woman over forty.  We find out later, that the woman is called Andrea and she is half of Lavanderia Vecchia (the other half being her husband) and the crazy interior is her brain child. Read more of this post

Koriat, Cake Manufacture, Neukölln

In London, I used to have a folder of clippings from newspapers, places that had opened and I wanted to go to.

Here, I try to buy the Tip Berlin every so often to keep abreast with what’s going down in town. It quickly disheartens me because I realize that my German is nowhere near good enough to ‘scan’ a page and pick out what might be interesting. And also because there are no AA Gills, Jay Rayners and Fay Maschlers shooting from the hip and telling me like it is.

Thus lacking in insight of others, I usually find a point of interest and then slowly navigate the streets surrounding it, looking for somewhere interesting to eat.

That was more or less the plan until I found the Berlin Unlike iPhone application.  It’s a silly price, €1.99 or something like that and I just love it.  My favourite button is called “around you” .  You tap on it, it locates you and then tells you what is worth seeking out around you at a distance of 0.5 km, o.7 km and so on.  Being me, I always narrow it down to “food”.

That’s how I found Koriat.

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